At the beginning of the 20th century, when 12-string guitars first appeared in the United States, the instruments were considered novelty items, curiosities, freaks of guitar making that were beneath the dignity of serious companies like Martin and Gibson. But when Blind Willie McTell picked up a Stella 12-string in 1927, and then basically never put it down, the instrument was suddenly legitimized.

A folk singer named Huddie Ledbetter, better known as Lead Belly, had actually made the Stella 12-string his own earlier, in 1912, but Lead Belly had so many scrapes with the law and spent so much time in prison that he wouldn’t get a chance to popularize the ringing tones of the 12-string until the 1930s and ’40s. Even then, his biggest hit, “Good Night Irene,” came after his death in 1949.

Pete Seeger and the Weavers kept the 12-string sound alive until the 1960s, when groups like the Rooftop Singers (“Walk Right In”) made it the go-to instrument on the commercial folk scene. Gibson was ready with its B-45 in 1961 and its B-25 in 1962, while Martin got on board a bit later with its D12-20 in 1964 and D12-35 in 1965.

The loudest noise in 12-strings, though, was made by Rickenbacker, thanks to a custom, one-of-a-kind 12-string version of its 325 hollowbody electric guitar made in 1964 for John Lennon of the Beatles. George Harrison also became a Rickenbacker acolyte, playing his Rickenbacker 360 12-string on songs like "A Hard Day’s Night."

One musician who liked that sound a lot was Roger McGuinn of the Byrds. Reportedly, he bought a 360-12 after seeing the movie named after of the famous Beatles song. He went on to play a 12-string on one of the Byrds’ biggest hits, “Turn Turn Turn.”

By the late 1970s, newer companies like Taylor made acoustic 12-strings part of their lines. Once again, a key musician would cement the instrument's sound in our collective soundtrack. In this case it was Neil Young who, while vacationing in Florida, purchased a Taylor 12-string, an 855, at a local music shop. Young liked his 855 so much he ordered a second, and Taylor subsequently gained widespread recognition when Young’s 855 figured prominently in his concert film, "Rust Never Sleeps."


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Recent News: 12 String Guitars

Source: Google News

Thurston Moore seeks comfort and salvation in a sonic valentine
Straight.com, October 1st

“It was focused on 12-string-guitar music, with violin, and a harp, and some fairly unintrusive percussion and second guitar.” After that, he adds, “I was itching to get the amp going again, a little louder. And then I moved to London, and I just spent...Read more

St. John Lutheran Church to Host Bluegrass Music Service October 5
New Hampton Tribune, September 30th

instruments for the special service include Rick Drewelow on banjo and dobro, Jody McNaughton on string bass, Sarah O'Neill on fiddle, Bruce Bruns with acoustic 6-string guitar, and Laurie Kristiansen on acoustic 12-string guitar, recorder and...Read more

Travis Ishikawa is starting in left field for the Giants in the 2014 playoffs
McCovey Chronicles, September 30th

His body is a 12-string guitar tuned up a step, and strings are always going to pop. The Marco Scutaro injury wasn't much of a surprise, considering he was a phantom in the Cactus League. Michael Morse, though, caught us off guard. He was just here...Read more

Roger McGuinn review – raconteur rocks the house with tales of Bob Dylan
The Guardian, September 30th

Without the influence of Roger McGuinn's chiming 12-string guitar, bands from the Smiths to REM to the La's to Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers would arguably have never sounded like they do. These days, the former Byrds frontman is a surprisingly...Read more

Jason Burke brings artists, music together
University of Virginia The Cavalier Daily, September 29th

During the course of the show, Burke additionally showcased some 12-string guitar playing, bluesy harmonica solos, and tight harmonies with Bechter. Burke's guitar playing is distinctly rhythmic, in a style reminiscent of bluegrass music in which...Read more

Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers beat back time in Dallas with joy and intensity
Dallas Morning News, September 27th

“Yer So Bad” was ful of dark whimsy; it also brought occasion for Petty to whip out his 12-string guitar. “The difference between this and your ordinary guitar is this has 12 strings,” he jested, sounding a little like Nigel from Spinal Tap. Petty and...Read more

Rockler Adds 12-String and Bass Electric Guitar Kits - High-quality Kits are ...
Virtual-Strategy Magazine (press release), September 24th

Rockler Woodworking and Hardware has introduced Electric 12-string and Bass Guitar Kits - the latest members in a family of musical instrument kits that includes six-string acoustic and electric guitars, mandolin, and violin kits. Once completed, the...Read more

“Old Familiar Chime”: A medley of guitar styles
Minnesota Daily, September 18th

The difference in inspiration comes from both age and personal preference, as 26-year-old Turnquist didn't discover Fahey's records until after he had already developed his own 12-string guitar style. “I think it's pretty cool to have a group of modern...Read more